Obama nomination of Mumia Abu Jamal lawyer stirs controversy

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) expressed reservations about President Obama’s nominee to lead the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division during a Wednesday confirmation hearing for Debo Adegbile.

Adegbile’s nomination has come under scorn from the Fraternal Order of Police, who have scolded Obama for nominating a lawyer involved in the defense of Mumia Abu Jamal, who was convicted of killing Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner in 1982.

ADVERTISEMENT
Grassley said he would giving “thoughtful consideration” to the complaints from police. He said the union, which represents 330,000 officers around the country, is well respected on both sides of the aisle.

“So, when they write to inform us of their ‘extreme disappointment, displeasure and vehement opposition’ to the nominee for the Civil Rights Division, I think that we should give their concerns thoughtful consideration,” Grassley said in his opening statement.

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) applauded Adegbile’s background, making no mention of the case in his opening statement. 

“I know he has been shaped by these experiences and will fight to uphold the rights of all Americans, when he is confirmed to lead the Civil Rights Division at the Justice Department,” Leahy said. 

Later in the hearing, Leahy asked Adegbile to address his critics concerns about the case, saying “ I think we all agree in any issue we should have advocates on both sides.”

Adegbile, during the hearing, said he took nothing away from people who questioned how lawyers could mount a defense in tough, death penalty cases. But he said “that is what we commit ourselves to under our constitution.” 

He said the case was limited to a constitutional question about jury selection and the defense in no way “cast any aspersion or [looked] past the grievous loss of Sergeant Faulkner.”

Adegbile was originally nominated in November and was renominated for the position this year. He currently serves as a senior counsel to the Senate Judiciary Committee. His nomination to the Justice Department is subject to Senate confirmation.  

The police union opposes Adegbile’s nomination because he held a leadership position in the NAACP legal defense fund when the group defended Abu Jamal, who was convicted of killing Faulkner during a traffic stop in 1981.

Abu Jamal was sentenced to death, but appeals of the sentencing kept his case in the courts for much of the next three decades.

In 2011, Abu Jamal avoided the death penalty, after the courts ordered that he should be resentenced after flaws during his original 1982 trial. Prosecutors then announced they would no longer seek the death penalty against him.

The NAACP legal defense fund represented Abu Jamal during the resentencing. From 2001-2013, Adegbile held various leadership roles in the fund.

The police union said the nomination of Adegbile spurred reactions ranging “from anger to incredulity” inside the police force. 

“There is no disputing that Philadelphia Police Officer Daniel Faulkner was murdered by this thug [Mumia Abu Jamal],” the group said in a letter to the president opposing Adegbile’s nomination. “His just sentence — death — was undone by your nominee and others like him who turned the justice system on its head with unfounded and unproven allegations of racism.”

This story was updated at 2:01 p.m.